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DA, police, probe cop’s car accident

December 11, 2000

The Police Department and the Queens district attorney are investigating the circumstances surrounding a minor car accident involving a top police union official, law enforcement officials have told Newsday.

The officials say they doubt that criminal or even administrative charges can be filed against the official for lack of evidence. Charges, they say, are more likely to be filed against the two responding officers who failed to follow procedure either because the official intimidated them or they were trying to protect him.

According to the accident report the two officers filed, the accident occurred at 11:30 p.m. Nov. 29, when Walter Liddy, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association trustee for Manhattan Borough South, rear-ended a jeep on Queens Boulevard and Queens Plaza South.

The jeep was driven by Donald Donofrio of Montauk. Liddy, who was driving a 1999 Ford, registered to the union at 40 Fulton St., maintained Donofrio's car "stopped suddenly," the report said. "When he applied his brakes, his vehicle slid into the Jeep ..."

A source familiar with the case said that when the two officers requested Liddy's license and registration, Liddy complied but became abusive, shouting, "Do you know who I am?" He stormed off and drove away, apparently forgetting he had left his license and registration.

Instead of notifying their superior officer, as is required when an off-duty police officer is involved in an incident, the two officers merely filed their accident report, listing Liddy as the driver. No mention was made of the circumstances of his leaving the scene.

Department brass only became aware of the incident when one of the Jeep's occupants notified the Internal Affairs Bureau, suggesting Liddy may have been intoxicated.

Liddy, who through a PBA spokesman declined to comment, and IAB have tangled in the past.

During the Midtown South brothel scandal two years ago, in which officers allegedly frequented and/or allowed a brothel to flourish for years, Liddy was the precinct delegate and insisted he be present at every interview of the suspected officers during the investigation.

Although a minor accident is normally investigated by a borough inspections unit, the current case is under investigation by IAB's Group One, which pursues high-profile cases, including those involving captains and above. Law enforcement sources say Group One has already questioned the two responding cops, who are assigned to the 108th Precinct. The case is also being examined by the Queens District Attorney's Integrity Bureau.

Reached by telephone Friday, Donofrio said he had spoken to IAB, then added, "No one got hurt. Don't bother me with this."

The Secret Order?
Who ordered scores of uniformed officers off patrol Tuesday afternoon to attend a ceremony at St. Francis College in Brooklyn at which former Police Commissioner Howard Safir served as guest speaker and received an honorary law degree?

Police sources say all precinct captains and executive officers from the 10 precincts of Brooklyn Patrol Borough North were ordered to attend. Each precinct captain was ordered to bring a sergeant "plus five"-meaning five patrol officers.

Brooklyn North's commanding officer, Assistant Chief James L. Ward, acknowledged the large turnout of uniformed officers at the ceremony but disputed the "sergeant plus five" order.

"Some guys had more than others," he said.

The turnout so impressed St. Francis' president, Frank Macchiarola, who when introducing Safir cited the large number of men in blue in the audience as a tribute to him.

Deputy Chief Tom Fahey of the department's public information office said, "There was no order."

The order-described as a telephone message-is believed to have originated with First Deputy Joltin' Joe Dunne, a 1969 graduate of St. Francis, a private Catholic college. Dunne, who did not return a call, attended the ceremony with his Dynamic Duo partner, Chief of Department Joe Esposito. Both are former commanding officers of Brooklyn North.

When he resigned in August, Safir lobbied Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to appoint Dunne his successor. Instead, the mayor appointed Bernard Kerik. Kerik did not attend the ceremony.

Safir, who was awarded an honorary degree in civil law, attended Brooklyn law school for two semesters but did not graduate.

The Air Bag Made Her Do It.
That's the theory of the Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau as to why Brooklyn Chief Judy McGinn struck five parked cars over a two-block area before crashing her police vehicle through the brick facade and metal door of a body shop across the street. The theory goes that when she struck the first car, her air bag opened and disoriented her.

Graham Rayman contributed to this column.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.